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New South Wales State of the Environment
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Letter from the SoE Advisory Council

Dear Minister

You have given the State of the Environment Advisory Council responsibility for scrutinising the process, content and direction of NSW State of the Environment 2006. With the report now completed, we are pleased to place on record our advice on SoE 2006 and its preparation.

The SoE Advisory Council has taken an active role in advising and guiding DEC in preparing this report. In accordance with your charter, we provided early input on the content and structure of the report. More importantly, the advisory council independently reviewed the analyses undertaken by DEC and reporting of responses to emerging issues. Our critique and suggestions were welcomed in a collaborative spirit, and we trust that SoE 2006 has benefited from this external perspective.

It is notable that this report carries forward most of the environment condition indicators from the two most recent SoE reports. The advisory council holds the firm view that continuity in the environment condition indicators used in successive reports is crucial to sound SoE reporting, as it enables issues to be compared against previous reporting periods.

It is also pleasing to record further improvements in the process of SoE reporting. This report provides very welcome, new summary information on trend and information quality for each indicator. This advance adds to the report's clarity and accessibility.

Unfortunately, the availability of this new information underlines the continuing concern of the advisory council about the adequacy of environmental condition monitoring for some important indicators. It appears that monitoring by government agencies, industry and other groups does not fully match the statutory needs of SoE reporting. While comprehensive data systems are largely in place for water and atmospheric conditions, monitoring of land-use changes, land degradation, and wider biodiversity conditions remains incomplete. The resulting data gaps reduce the scope for accurate, comprehensive reporting on some terrestrial conditions across NSW.

The advisory council welcomes the Government's plan to upgrade natural resources monitoring and evaluation through the Natural Resources Commission. This reform will address the main data gaps and should provide the comprehensive natural resources information that will be an important part of future SoE reporting.

Notwithstanding its limitations, SoE 2006 provides a most comprehensive snapshot of current environmental conditions across NSW. DEC has been diligent in seeking out available information, and has prepared a report that attempts to be objective and honest in its description of the state of the environment.

Conditions over the last three years have been affected by the continuing impact of drought. However, some positive trends are evident in the report: urban water consumption has continued to decrease; further broad improvements have been made in both air and water quality (though local conditions in some areas have deteriorated); and impressive steps have been taken to improve river health. On the other hand, future environmental health is compromised by a current rate of consumption of natural resources that is not sustainable.

The advisory council wishes to thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the preparation of SoE 2006. The NSW Government is to be commended on its leadership in open reporting on the state of the environment and this report provides a valuable snapshot and a timely guide to action for all in NSW.

Yours sincerely

Tony Wright

NSW State of the Environment Advisory Council

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